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Lib Dems Apologise for Tweet That Compared Guildford’s MP with Russia’s Putin

Published on: 28 Mar, 2022
Updated on: 30 Mar, 2022

Cllr Paul Spooner retweeted the Lib Dem Tweet which compared Guildford’s MP with Putin, saying to the Lib Dems: “…you make me sick”.

By Martin Giles

Guildford Lib Dems have apologised for a Tweet that compared Guildford’s Conservative MP, Angela Richardson, to the “mass murdering war criminal Putin” because of implied shared views with Harry Potter author J K Rowling.

J K Rowling has faced criticism in some quarters because of her views on transgender rights. In 2020 she wrote: “I tweeted my support for Maya Forstater… who’d lost her job for what were deemed ‘transphobic’ tweets. She took her case to an employment tribunal, asking… whether a philosophical belief that sex is determined by biology is protected in law.”

Attacking Western culture, Putin said last week: “Recently they cancelled the children’s writer Joanne Rowling because she – the author of books that have sold hundreds of millions of copies worldwide – fell out of favour with fans of so-called gender freedoms.”

As news of Putin’s statement was reported, someone with access to the Guildford Lib Dems’ group Twitter account retweeted a Sky News Tweet on the story adding: “The moment you discover your MP and mass murdering war criminal Putin sing from the same hymn sheet.”

See also: Controversial Lib Dem Tweet Was Not Sent by Parliamentary Candidate or a Sitting Councillor

This was responded to by the leader of the Conservative group at GBC, Paul Spooner (South Ash & Tongham) who said: “Absolutely shameful @GuildfordLibDem [their Twitter address] you make me sick.”

Angela Richardson MP

This afternoon (March 28) Angela Richardson commented: “I was alerted to the awful tweet put out by Guildford Lib Dems by Labour Councillor James Walsh, who I would like to thank for his reasoned judgement in labelling the tweet “poisonous” and calling for it to be removed.

“It’s a reminder that while politicians can be separated by ideas and beliefs, decency is something that can be common to all.

“We heard only last week in The Dragon that Guildford councillors failing to follow social media guidance was the cause of most complaints against them. This was discussed at the meeting [held on March 24] of the Corporate Governance and Standards Committee, chaired by Cllr George Potter [Lib Dem, Burpham].

“It is disappointing then that, here again, we have an instance where inflammatory language has been injected purposefully into Guildford’s public life. I do not engage with any of my political opponents in these terms – it doesn’t benefit any of my constituents to do so.

“We all get it wrong on social media from time to time – including me. But I’ve learned my lesson and always apologise. I hope that in the light of this tweet, Guildford Lib Dems can be humble enough to learn theirs. And that process should start with an apology.”

Subsequently, following an emailed enquiry, The Guildford Dragon received the following from the Guildford Liberal Democrats: “The tweet posted on our Twitter account last Friday was clearly inappropriate, for which we apologise. It was swiftly deleted.”

It is not known whether an apology has also been made directly to Angela Richardson and The Dragon has asked the Liberal Democrats who, with access to their Twitter account, published the Tweet.

On Thursday evening (March 24) a report to GBC’s Corporate Governance and Standards Committee identified inappropriate use of social media as the main cause of complaints against councillors.

Findings of online check on GBC councillors with Twitter accounts.

A check online showed that only 15 of GBC councillors definitely have a Twitter account and a minority of these use it regularly, mostly for comments that are not controversial.

Cllr George Potter, committee chair

We interviewed, briefly, the committee chair Cllr George Potter on the subject.

Given the common theme of social media comments behind most complaints against councillors, what more can be done to address the problem and deter councillors from transgressing the code and advice?

Apart from training, which already takes place, I doubt there is much more which can be done by the council. The only things which are likely to have any further effect are either political parties and groups holding their own members to account (indeed, some political parties have a more robust complaint system than the local government one) and public scrutiny opprobrium.

But I’m not sure either of those are likely to happen as long as the outcomes of complaints, and the identities of the councillors in question, remain anonymous.

Only a minority of GBC councillors appear to have Twitter accounts and a minority of those use them frequently and make controversial comments. Isn’t the problem caused by just a very small group of councillors?

Obviously, there are other forms of social media beyond Twitter, so I think looking at Twitter alone means only looking at part of the problem. But yes, it is quite probably the case that the majority of complaints concern just a small group of councillors. 

However, this is not the same thing as the majority of complaints being caused by those councillors. Half the [14] complaints submitted last year failed the initial jurisdiction test, so I think a more accurate assessment of the situation would be that a very small minority of the public are quite likely to complain about politicians who say things they disagree with.

Only a small number of councillors use Twitter to express opinions, and it is inevitable that these councillors will therefore end up being the subject of complaints in a way which is not the case for councillors who do not use social media.

Given we only have the raw numbers to go on, I think it’s certainly possible that there is a minority of councillors who consistently behave in a way which causes problems, but it’s also possible that it might just be that there are some members of the public (especially political activists) who are very trigger-happy when it comes to making complaints.

So without a system where the outcomes and nature of complaints are published, it is very difficult to come to any clear conclusion on where the problem lies. This, however, is something which I am hoping the council can be persuaded to change.

What I will also say is that I have reason to suspect that a significant share of the complaints is likely to be made up of councillors complaining about other councillors. [In fact, the number of complaints made by councillors is known. It was three of the 14 made in 2021 and all three passed the initial jurisdiction test.]

Shouldn’t we all know when a councillor has broken the code whether by inappropriate use of social media, email or in any other way? Wouldn’t that be a deterrence?

Yes.

GBC’s Social Media Guidance

GBC drew up specific guidance on the use of social media by councillors in 2020. within the guide it states: “Improper use of social media and mobile devices could be used as grounds for challenging a contentious decision, or result in complaints of breaching the Councillors Code of Conduct, for a failure to show respect for others or bringing the council or the office of councillor into disrepute.”

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test One Response to Lib Dems Apologise for Tweet That Compared Guildford’s MP with Russia’s Putin

  1. Jim Allen Reply

    March 28, 2022 at 9:39 pm

    Disgusting.

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